For the 20-plus years that I’ve followed and written about Idaho politics, I’ve marveled at the narrative that Idaho’s Legislature is the most “conservative” in the country. That’s false. The Legislature is certainly among the most Republican. But, conservative? Not even close.
The disconnect comes from members of the media insisting that conservative is a synonym for Republican and vice versa. Intentionally or innocently, the conservative label is a misnomer that serves to confuse voters. Indeed, the media’s mistaken viewpoint of conservatism works really, really well if you happen to be a Republican who most often votes in support of Big Government -- but you’d rather your constituents didn’t know it.
In the last two years alone, legislators who swear allegiance to conservative values have voted to raise taxes, add new government regulations, and promote government-run health care. I’ve even listened to conservative lawmakers justify their votes to tell auto dealers what hours they must be open and bars how many drinks they must serve. (I wish I were making that up).
Then they return home to wave the conservative banner, hoping that none dare challenge their rhetoric. But just in case a challenge arise, they always come armed with a good reason for the “but” exception to overtake the conservative rule.
"I'm against higher taxes, but ..."
"I'm against government-run health care, but ..."
"I'm against government regulation, but ..."
"I don't support tax deals for special interests, but ..."
This ongoing and purposeful deception is the reason the Idaho Freedom Foundation created the Freedom Index. We were tired of seeing moderate and liberal legislators being hailed in the media and in their own campaign literature as conservatives, while actual conservatives were being put down and derided as extremists or fringe.
IFF’s Freedom Index looks at every single bill introduced in the Legislature, determines whether it grows government or shrinks it, raises a tax or lowers it, supports special interests or the free market. The results are compiled so that lawmakers and the general public can have a deeper understanding of legislative action per bill and on a cumulative level.
The Freedom Index results for the last several years have been interesting. The bottom line: Generally, legislators in Idaho — Republican and Democrat — support ever increasing levels of government intervention in the marketplace, in our businesses, and in our lives.
There are, in fact, few legislators in Idaho who support limited government and personal responsibility — the core principles of conservatism. Those who decidedly did in 2016, and who earned a Freedom Index grade of C or better, are: Sens. Steve Vick, Bob Nonini, Sheryl Nuxoll, Lori Den Hartog, Cliff Bayer, Mary Souza and Jim Rice and Reps. Ron Nate, Heather Scott, Steve Harris, Shannon McMillan, Sage Dixon, Kathy Sims, Ron Mendive, Jason Monks, Gayle Batt, Brent Crane, Vito Barbieri, Joe Palmer, Pete Nielsen, Don Cheatham, Janet Trujillo, Judy Boyle, Terry Gestrin, Tom Dayley, John Vander Woude, Gary Collins, Lynn Luker and Mike Moyle. Special recognition is deserved for Vick, Nonini, Nuxoll, Scott, Nate, Harris and McMillan who nearly always voted their conservative principles.
Labor unions, government bureaucrats, special interest groups, and federal edicts are always pressuring Idaho lawmakers to grow government at the expense of freedom and free enterprise. And for too long, a majority of Idaho legislators have gone along with the liberal agenda. Because the news media and elected officials no longer have a monopoly on information, the tide is turning, and those who claim to be conservative now have to prove that their votes match their rhetoric.